Thursday, May 7, 2009

Purchasing an Animation Desk or Lightbox

One of the basic items you need to animate is an animation desk or a lightbox.

There are many different configurations of desks , some of which I have shown in the web album Animation Desks gallery in the sidebar links. You can peruse that album for ideas on how you might set up your own workspace.

There is also a PDF booklet that I have prepared called "Animation Student's Guide to Animation Desks" which may be downloaded by clicking on the link.

While it is possible to purchase or build a large professional studio-style desk such as this example of a Disney Studio desk ---

(click on any of the images to view them larger)

most of use don't have the space or the funds to purchase such a large desk for our home studio. (these desks are wonderful, but take up a lot of space and are very heavy to move).

A good , portable animation desk is the one made by Colin Johnson of Vancouver, BC , available through his web site

This desk is very good value for the money as he includes the white plexiglass animation disc , and a fluorescent backlight unit with the desk itself ( similar desks from other companies typically have the desk/lightbox unit and the animation disc as separate items which cost more.)

There are similar portable table-top animation desks available from Chromacolour , Cartoon Colour, and Lightfoot Animation , though they are more expensive.

I will mention that the Lightfoot portable lightboxes do have a smaller "footprint" (only 24" x 24" compared to 36" x 24" on the Colin Johnson table) , so if space is an issue you might want to consider one of the compact Lightfoot Easel Design Animation lightboxes :

(these compact animation lightboxes from Lightfoot Animation Supplies cost about $100.00 more than the Colin Johnson desk, and do NOT come with the animation disc included. The white plexiglass animation disc is about $70.00 - to - $80.00 extra, so the Lightfoot model would actually cost about $180.00 more than the Colin Johnson animation table.)

Even more compact would be a simple lightbox with animation pegbar (no disc).

Lightfoot Animation sells the Artograph LightTracer II 12 Field lightbox (12" x 18") with an Acme peg bar pre-installed for about $100.00 .

Some online art dealers such as Dick Blick Art have these Artograph LightTracer II lightboxes for less , so keep your eyes open . Dick Blick currently sells the 12" x 18" model for only $58.18 (compared to list price of $99.00) . Add a thin tape-down Acme peg bar from Cartoon Colour for $25.00 or Lightfoot's thin aluminum peg Acme peg bar for $20.00 and you'll have a functional animation lightbox for about $80.00 to $85.00 dollars. (the Lightfoot thin peg bar 1/16" is not quite as thin as the one from Cartoon Colour Co. , 1/32", but is thinner than the usual cheap plastic peg bar which has too much of a raised edge.)

Cartoon Colour Co. also sells a similar Light Box (with larger work surface of 18 1/2" x 15 1/4" ) for $135.00.

Very compact, these lightboxes will work ok for your animation, but overall it is much better to have the rotating animation disc if possible. It also doesn't have much of a raised slant , but you can prop it up with some books to raise the angle.

Cartoon Colour Co. sells a compact Plexiglass Lightbox unit
(21 1/2" x 21 1/2" ) with a hole precision cut to take a standard animation disc (16 1/2" diameter hole) for $175.00 .

A white translucent plexiglass animation disc would cost an additional $70.00, so one of these units from Cartoon Colour would be $245.00 complete, more than the Colin Johnson Animation Desk, but the only advantage would be if you were pressed for space and needed a lightbox with a rotating disc that occupied a smaller footprint (only 21 1/2" x 21 1/2" compared to 36" x 24" on the Colin Johnson desk)

Traditional Drafting Table adapted to Animation Table:

A step-up from a portable table-top animation desk would be to have a hole cut into a standard wooden drafting table so you can mount an animation disc on it , with a backlight unit mounted underneath. What you would give up in terms of portability and compactness you would gain in flexibility and comfort. A drafting table can be adjusted in both height and the angle of the tabletop for the maximum in drawing comfort. You can adjust the table to whatever angle is best for you. If you have the space this is really the best option for a traditional animation set up.

The Alvin Pavilion model , 42" x 31" or 36" x 24" , is a good basic drawing table. These tables are available from or other art suppliers.

If you have the proper tools to make a precision cut 16 1/2" hole in the table top then you could cut the hole yourself , or hire a local woodworker who has the proper tools to make the cut for you . You may have a friend or family member who has the proper tools to do this. Be very careful when cutting the hole. It must be smooth and perfectly round so the disc will turn smoothly.

You can purchase a table like this with the hole pre-cut from Cartoon Colour Co. or Alan Gordon Enterprises for about $250.00 . The animation disc and backlight unit is sold separately. The custom-fitted backlight units sold by Cartoon Colour Co. and Alan Gordon are nice to have , but expensive . You can do fine by mounting your own fluorescent light unit under the table or use inexpensive clamp-on metal shop lamp reflector with "Cool Bulb" spiral fluorescent bulbs as a backlight unit.

Besides being able to fine-tune the height and angle of the drafting table it also gives you more space to pin up notes, model sheets, and X-sheets , especially if you use an extension panel as shown below. (the extension panel may also be used on the Colin Johnson desk to add space to clip on an X-sheet to the right or left side of the table.)

(click any image to view it larger)

(notice most of the artists have a corkboard on the
wall in front of their desks to pin up model sheets and
other notes)

If you have the extra space an over-size table top gives even more space to pin up your model sheets and other notes as shown below:

You will also find it useful to surround your drawing space with a folding table, shelves ("scene stackers") and/ or some sort of side-table unit to have a place to stack your drawings , blank paper, pencils, and other supplies, to keep them organized and close at hand.

Notice the tall scene-stacker to the right of this animator's work space. The drawings from various scenes can be kept organized in a shelving unit such as the one shown below:

This Winsor-Newton artist's tabouret shown below makes a good compact side-table unit for an animation desk. Paper can be stored in the lower shelves, while the interior drawers can be used to store pencils, erasers, peg hole reinforcements , and other supplies.

Here is another view of a typical animation scene stacker unit filled with animation drawings bound between chipboard panels and rubber-banded around the outside to protect the drawings and keep everything neatly organized. Below is a shorter scene stacker unit:

Anyone looking for ready-made Scene Stackers (for 12 field animation paper) take a look at these cube stackers available from Target:

Cube Shelf Stackers
There are other similar stacking shelf units available from different office supply and home decor stores.

The one linked to above is 15" x 15" , which is big enough for 12 field paper (12.5" x 10.5") , not quite big enough for 16 field paper (16.5" x 13.5" ) . Most people use 12 field so that's no big deal. But if you expect to use 16 field you'll need to find slightly wider shelves.

These (also from Target) are wider and you could add multiple shelves to it:

Another "Scene Stacker" available from Target

Scene stackers might not be the most glamourous item on your equipment list , but you'll be surprised how handy these are for storing and keeping track of your animation drawings.

An inexpensive , functional scene stacker can be made from large size stacking file crates available from various office supply stores:

This economical file crate scene stacker could be further sub-divided into individual shelving compartments using sturdy cardboard or lightweight masonite panels held in place with wire or glued in place.